After a 15-year hiatus, D’Angelo is officially back — and he’s better than ever.
D’Angelo played a sold out concert on Saturday night (Feb. 7) at the legendary Apollo Theater. It was the very first date of his “Second Coming” tour (which kicks off a European run on Thursday before coming back to the States in March) in support of his latest release, ‘Black Messiah.’ The venue is so small that it only accommodates 1,500 people but one of the city’s most intimate and sonically satisfying theaters. I was so lucky to be one of these 1,500.
Even before calling himself D’Angelo, Michael Archer first graced the stage of the Apollo on Amateur Night in 1991 at the age of 16. More than 20 years later, it’s good to see have him back.
From the moment he walked onto the dimly lit stage alone Saturday night — sporting a leather jacket, wide-brimmed hat and long scarf — and performed the first two verses of “Prayer” solo before being joined by his band, D’Angelo showed that while he’s now 40 years old and many pounds heavier, he’s lost none of the charisma and vocal agility that made him a star in the first place.
By the second song, “Ain’t That Easy,” the hat and the jacket were gone and the band hit cruising altitude. It may have been opening night, but this was no warm-up show: the Vanguard — his monstrously tight 10-piece ensemble featuring virtuoso bassist Pino Palladino and ex-Time guitarist Jesse Johnson and lovely songstress Kendra — had them on lock.
Still, the set was less about rendering the album versions faithfully than taking the songs for joyrides that stretched for seven to 10 minutes without ever getting dull or losing focus. D’Angelo is a masterful bandleader: he’s studied his Prince and James Brown videos diligently, and (like them) he treats the band like a toy he’s endlessly delighted with.
The show passed the two-hour mark during the second encore, which saw the new album’s “Till It’s Done” stretched out into a long vamp that even included a short solo from razor-sharp drummer Chris Dave, which unexpectedly shifted into the slow, opening drumbeat of D’Angelo’s biggest hit, 2000’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”
He stretched out the song far beyond its album length, leading the crowd in a singalong, shaking hands with virtually the entire front row. He finally settled behind the piano and continued the song as each bandmember left the stage, one at a time, until the set ended as it began, with D’Angelo alone. It was a theatrical yet unpretentious ending to a show that saw this remarkable performer, against all odds, picking up where he left off nearly 15 years ago.
“Prayer” “A Thousand Deaths” “Ain’t That Easy” Vanguard Theme “Feel Like Makin’ Love” Claire Fisher Interlude “Really Love” “One Mo’Gin” “Another Life” “Alright” “Brown Sugar” “The Charade” “Sugah Daddy”
“Lady” “Back to the Future” “Left and Right” “Chicken Grease/What It Do” “Till It’s Done” “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”